Community Living Upper Ottawa Valley is committed to sharing practices and processes that relate to success and enhancing people’s quality of life. However, we have a way to go before we can celebrate success in supporting seniors in the most dignified and respectful manner.
We support some people who are in their 50s, 60s and 70s that live in long-term care facilities or senior residences. Some are quite content to be there while others would rather be anywhere else. We also support people who are in their 80s who have aged in place with the support of our agency, their families and health supports. We have found that it is important for support to be flexible as the needs of people change as they age. We have supported people through end-of-life with terminal illnesses and we have been devastated to address emergency health needs only to experience loss.
While we recognize and appreciate the competencies of support teams in LTC, as well as the stress this year, has added to their workday, the fact remains that these are institutionalized settings. Some of those we know working in LTC are the exact combination of personality and compassion that I would want in my life if I could no longer meet my own care needs. Yet LTC facilities as an option for anyone – let alone someone who is not a senior, someone who may have experienced institutionalization in the past, and whose only health needs relate directly to their disability – seems like a last resort. The challenge is that some people feel there is safety and continuity in a congregate care setting; that loneliness will not occur; that health needs will be taken care of. Unfortunately, there is no setting that can assure these things. What does create those safeguards is having relationships. It is so important to have people in one’s life who want good things for you, people who are willing to invest the time and energy and even advocacy to help make that happen.
At CLUOV, we are trying to address housing needs by seeking community as a first resort. We work with landlords, property owners and municipalities to ensure they recognize their role in providing good housing options, so that we are not the be-all-end-all, by running group homes or tucking people away. We are trying to address poverty by seeking community as a first resort. We work with employers, educators and social services to promote independence, interdependence and seek ways for people to make contributions to the fabric of our society. We are trying to address health needs by seeking community as a first resort. We help people access in-home support, medical professionals and health promoters so they may age at home with dignity and respect.
When we stop expecting congregate care and segregation in schools when we support people’s choice of where and with whom to live, when we promote and expect inclusion in recreation, employment or social settings, then maybe the people we support will be able to age at home and not in LTC facilities.
We need community partners too. We need eligibility to change so that a disability does not automatically qualify you for a long-term care placement and the life of restrictions that go along with it. We need quality of life to be correlated to each person’s definition of it.
The developmental services sector looks to goals and achievements as measurements of the quality of support being provided; the LTC sector attempts to focus on comfort, safety and health. There’s a big difference between the two, especially if you have 30 or 40 years left to live.